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February 02, 2024 by Audra Bayer
The Spring Break is a time of year that children and their parents alike look forward to. Spring Break is a special time of year with time spent skiing, or traveling or in Spring local activities or camps or perhaps at home doing things together that there is precious little time for as a result of the chaos of school, activities, work and other obligations. These two weeks can be used for and filled with plenty of opportunities to make lasting and fun filled memories and strengthen bonds with friends and family.
The Spring Break can also be an opportunity for an increase in conflict and can easily become a stressful time with busy social calendars, increased financial pressure, and disruption to routines and parenting schedules.
For families who are separated or divorced, a Spring Break arrangement is important for peace of mind and a happy holiday period for all family members including potentially extended family. Holiday schedules need to be discussed and finalized months in advance and should be mindful of the usual traditions and historically planned family events including any historically attended camps or activities. At all times, the negotiation of these special days should be child focused.
Planning in advance means putting your children first and means actioning that commitment which eliminates conflict, and provides a conflict free period to facilitate the sharing of this holiday time with your children.
These days ought not be defined as another day in the calendar or parenting schedule – they are very important days in your children’s mental scrapbook – the scrapbook that you have the privilege and responsibility to contribute to in a positive way. This is not your time – this is their childhood and you are stewards and guardians of this. Any decisions you make ought to be made through the lens of what your children would want that day to look like and given your decision, what their experience on that day will be from their perspective.
Traditions are important but when parents separate, that separation can impact the ability to continue with those traditions in the usual way. This means that parents must be reasonable and flexible in their choices with respect to celebrating those traditions or historical travel plans or activities. Quite often, the children are not rooted in the days that the activities or events take place (or the travel) but are invested in the fact that they will be engaging in same or in the alternative, be spending some special time with a parent and or family . Adults are typically the ones rooted in specific dates, not the children.
Sometimes, the plans for this holiday period requires the organization of extended family members and or travel of either the parents or other family members. This may mean that the best option to facilitate participation in these events, travel or activities particularly if they were historically engaged in, is to agree to an alternating annual schedule. While no parent anticipates not spending a holiday period with their child when they have children, separation means acknowledging the importance of the right of children to spend holidays and engage in special events or celebrations with each parent and their respective families /friends. After all, from a child’s perspective although the parents have separated, their extended family has not changed and their wishes to spend time and to celebrate holidays with all of these additional persons in their lives who love them should be honored and valued.
I have often said with respect to the sharing of holidays, that parents do not own days in a child’s life, they are supposed to be sharing these days and celebrations and in doing so they have the opportunity to be witnesses to their child’s life and experiences. These holidays are some of the most important pages of your child’s mental scrapbook. What do you want them to remember about you and the time they spent with you on these days when they look back? What do you want them to remember as most notable about these holidays with you? Certainly you do not want the memories about the disagreements about these holidays and events to outweigh the memories of these dates. Speaking from experience, I can promise you that the memory of any conflict can and likely will outweigh any memories of the actual holidays spent together. It is easier for adults to let go of the feelings and memories of the conflict with the other parent because they are already engaged in a negative dynamic while the child who values their relationship with each parent and is (or ought not be) engaged in the conflict with the other parent, will be hurt by witnessing this conflict or being made to be the collateral damage of same. They will hurt for themselves and for the other parent.
Dr. Richard Warshak, psychologist and author of Divorce Poison, wrote an article featured in the Huffington Post on May 12, 2011, as guidance for parents dealing with the issue of summer holidays.
He provides 6 tips to “avoid the common pitfalls” that can poison a child’s holiday pleasures:
1. Prepare your child: If you are the parent sending your children, don’t burden them with your own anxiety. Help your children anticipate with enthusiasm and the expectation of a pleasurable time with your ex;
2. Be ready for your child: If you are the receiving parent, make sure your home is child-friendly and safe for babies and toddlers and toys and games are available that can maintain children’s interests. Arrange play dates with other children. Some parents want to occupy the child’s time exclusively to compensate for absence during the school year. This is short-sighted. You want your child to be comfortable in your home. This means spending some time playing with other children and with extended family;
3. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings: If the child objects to going for the holidays or on a trip, try to figure out why. Is it normal pre-transition jitters, is the time period too long, or has the child had prior bad experiences? Both parents should facilitate phone or Skype contact; sometimes, it helps to prearrange times for these to take place;
4. Be flexible: If both parents can agree on a different schedule, it is not necessary to follow the same schedule every summer. What works for children when they are five is not necessarily the best plan when they are fifteen. Sometimes it can help to restructure the contact into smaller blocks of time so that a young child is not away from her familiar environment for too long a period of time. Keep your focus on your child’s needs, not your “rights”;
5. Don’t use the word “visit”: Visit means that a person is set apart, in some fundamental way, from others at the same location. A visitor is a guest in the home. Without thinking about it, we endorse a destructive idea every time we use this term to designate the time children spend with a parent. We are telling children that their relationship with one parent is less than a normal parent-child relationship after divorce. Visiting communicates the message that one parent is no longer central in their lives. He/she is no longer a parent in the same sense as he was before the divorce. Instead of your children “visiting” a parent this summer, have them spend time with the parent. Have them live with the parent;
6. Allow children to take possessions that comfort them: Young children will want to take their security blanket, and older children will want to take a favourite toy. Some parents do not want objects from their home to go to the ex’s home; if they keep their focus on their child’s needs, parents will be less rigid about this.
Childhood is not a renewable resource. Build memories, not conflict and walls. The most important gift you can give your children during the holidays is joy and laughter and something positive and happy to look back on. Parenting is hard enough. Don’t add to this by making choices that create unnecessary conflict in the parenting relationship.
Take the opportunity this Spring Break to practice gratitude and to teach your child the same, by remembering that although your relationship has been revisioned from one of being a couple to one of being co parents, it is because of that relationship that you have the gift of your child/ren. Celebrate this and use that gratitude as a foundation for a healthier co parenting relationship which is the best gift you can give to your children this holiday season.
Happy planning and should you require any assistance with negotiating this important holiday period, do not hesitate to contact Audra to mediate or to contact your parenting coach or a parenting coordinator.
Contact FH&P Lawyers if you need more guidance on dealing with the conflict of separation and divorce. We can help you stay child focused and create positive, workable parenting arrangements. We can also help you access local community resources. Call us today at 250-762-4222 for positive parenting arrangements.
Have a safe and happy summer from me, my family and the lawyers at FH&P.